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Tips for styling and shooting food & drink photography

Have you ever been to a restaurant, opened the menu, and every food item looked a little blasé blah? You order what you think looks the least questionable, because your friend promises that they have the best burger in town. Your food arrives and it looks totally normal in real life. After hesitantly taking your first bite—because you’re still thinking about that menu image—you’re relieved that it actually tastes amazing!

Be honest, if your friend hadn’t swore the food was phenomenal, would you have walked out after seeing the menu? If the answer is yes, you’re certainly not alone. That’s the difference between amateur and stellar food and drink photography.

Great photography can be your biggest ally when it comes to marketing your restaurant or business. Here are a few tips that will help you take incredible food and drink pictures, so your customers will come in droves.

Light it up!

Natural lighting drink photography

The most important part of any photography project—whether it’s for Vogue or pictures for your menu—is the lighting. You won’t be able to properly portray your meal offerings if the photos are too dimly or harshly lit.

The best kind of lighting for food photography is natural lighting. Set yourself up by a big window. Play with shadow and highlight. Pack a reflector if you’re planning on taking photos using backlight, so you can get the dramatic look you want without sacrificing the color and clarity of what you’re photographing.

If you’re worried about light quality on the day of your scheduled shoot, consider purchasing gear like speedlights and continuous lights. Pick and choose equipment based on your individual needs and what you hope to accomplish out of the photoshoot.

Utilize Color

Colorful Drink Photography

Color is always eye-catching, no matter what you’re selling. If there’s a particular dish that you want to feature, make sure it has contrasting hues. Be selective about the produce you choose to feature and only pick the most aesthetically pleasing. For example, showcase the richness of your red pepper or make mouths water with the lushness of your salad greens.

Repetition is Your Friend

If color is too flashy for your brand, create cohesiveness using props. The plates, dishes, glasses and silverware that you use to stage your photo should all compliment the food. Play around with repetition in shape. For example, round plates with gold trim would look nice next to gold silverware and round glasses. The food is the star, but the supporting roles help to tell the story.

Make It Pop

Styling Food Photography

Continuing on with the celebrity metaphor, just like Beyoncé wouldn’t want to be upstaged by one of her background dancers, your food doesn’t want to be upstaged by the background it’s shot on. Shoot on something neutral, so the food and drink are the star of the show. Your subject should look like it’s popping off of the page, not blending into the background.

Find Her Best Angle

Food & drink photography

When you watch models striking a pose, they’re creating visual interest. Your food and drink probably isn’t sentient, so you’ll have to do the work for it. Think about what you want to portray.

If you want your drink to look huge and refreshing, shoot from a low angle. If you want to showcase or stretch portion size, move around and find the angle that makes your dish look the largest. You may need to adjust lighting as you go, but it will ultimately tell a better story if you keep angles in mind.

Orchestrate Your Shot

Composition is very important, especially if you’re shooting multiple components at once. Carefully choose where you want the focus to be, and build around it. Think about leading lines. Your eye should always be ushered back to the focus of the photo. When you’re composing, consider how this photo will be used. If it’s the cover of your menu, you will want to leave room for the name of the restaurant somewhere. Be specific, plan ahead, and your composition will be a success!

Hire A Professional Editor

Depending on the importance of these pictures, you may want to send them off to have them professionally edited. Editing can enhance highlight and shadow, as well as help your subject pull focus. It can also give you the opportunity to edit out imperfections. If you’re hoping to create pictures that would rival McDonald’s marketing, you should know that they melt their cheese with a palette knife to perfectly sculpt it. They also use Photoshop. Editing isn’t necessarily being dishonest. It just helps to enhance a dish’s beauty, like makeup.

Styling and shooting food and drinks can be fun and very rewarding if you take the time to follow these fool-proof steps. Whether it’s for a foodie Instagram account or to generate more business after a particularly rough year for the restaurant industry, great pictures can considerably up your marketability. Bon appétit!


Need help with Digital Marketing? Here at McMillan & Phillips we have a team of experts to make all your brand growth a reality. Reach out today and let’s start optimizing your website and ultimately, your brand!

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